Fatah slams Arafat aide who turned corruption charges on leadership
Published Monday 11/06/2012 (updated) 15/06/2012 14:03
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Fatah officials rushing to denounce Mohammad Rashid over his corruption conviction have failed to examine their own links to the fallen financier of the Palestinian leadership, experts following the case said Monday.
Bassam Zakarnah, a Fatah revolutionary council member, issued a statement on Sunday calling on the financial adviser to the late President Yasser Arafat to say what he has to say in a Palestinian court, rather than conducting "criminal acts" against the Palestinian people.
Rashid, whose recent media appearances criticizing the government have incensed Fatah, was convicted in absentia on Thursday by the PA's anti-corruption court in Ramallah. He was sentenced to 15 years and ordered to return $15 million stolen from state funds.
"We will protect Muhammad Rashid and stand by him if he comes to Ramallah to submit proof he is innocent of charges he was convicted of. He has the right to choose his lawyer," Zakarneh said.
Speaking from London to broadcaster Al-Jazeera, Rashid said he would not return as "the legal environment is not safe."
Zakarneh himself has had a series of public spats with Fatah leaders earlier this year and last month a presidential committee said the government employees union he leads was illegal.
On Monday, Fatah issued a statement to the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa slamming the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya for hosting a series of interviews with Rashid where he criticized the current Palestinian leadership.
The statement called Rashid a conspirator against the national cause and historical leaders, and called on Al-Arabiya not to side with "the conspiracy against Palestinians, their cause and leaders."
Turning the tables
But Abdul Sattar Qassim, a professor of political science at Najah university who says he has been closely following the case for 15 years, said the outrage from Fatah ranks stems from officials seeking political advantage with the current leadership, whose members are implicated in the same corruption allegations.
Rashid was a member of the "inner gang" of the Palestinian leadership, Qassim told Ma'an. "Most of these people now talking against him used to go begging to him for financial assistance ... he was the maestro of financial corruption," the professor said.
The current Fatah leadership "cannot escape the accusations by Muhammad Rashid," Qassim continued, adding that because of Rashid's position "he knows pretty well how the money was wasted."
Rashid criticized the PA for corruption when he appeared on Al-Arabiya earlier this year, and told formerly-banned news site In Light Press last week that Fatah has a secret bank account in Jordan with a balance of $39 million.
In Light Press has been described as loyal to Muhammad Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, who fled the West Bank last summer after security forces raided his home.
Qassim says the timing of the corruption case, which he holds to be long overdue, is linked to Rashid's public appearances slamming the PA, a charge the head of the anti-corruption commission investigating the case has denied.
But Qassim says attempts to link the case to Dahlan, who was accused of trying to mobilize a personal militia in the West Bank, are a false flag to distract from the accusations Rashid is making against the current leadership.
Initially Fatah members pursued Rashid to seek advantage, and now they are distancing themselves from him to gain favor from the new power bases, Qassim said.
The elephant in the room is the financier's decades-long relationship to Arafat, Qassim said, noting "this (case) has to do with the whole leadership."
Anti-corruption commission chief Rafiq Natsheh says Rashid had been pursued long before the Al-Arabiya interviews. The commission has opened files against several PA ministers, but the Rashid case is the most high profile to date.